Ask Matt: Remakes, "New" Mike & Molly, NCIS Spin-Offs, Castle
Mark Harmon | Photo Credits: Sonja Flemming/CBS
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Question: Curious for your take on this. NBC just announced a remake of Murder, She Wrote with Octavia Spencer. They recently cancelled their re-imagining of the classic Ironside and in recent years have attempted revivals of Knight Rider, Bionic Woman and The Munsters, all of which have failed. My question is this: Why do they continue to revive old shows when they never measure up and ultimately fail? Am I correct that all of these titles are Universal properties? Obviously a case of corporate synergy here with NBC Universal. Do you think they are going to continue with this trend until they have exhausted all of Universal's classic TV series? What's next, Magnum P.I. 2015? — Richard
Matt Roush: Don't give them any ideas. (But in that case, they'd also have Tom Selleck to answer to, so I'm betting not.) The reason programmers go this route is simple. While there are considerable risks in rebooting a classic title — execution being a major issue (see also: ABC's recent Charlie's Angels misfire, for one) — the fact that viewers are already familiar with the property makes it an easier sell and potentially gives it an advantage amid the clutter of new network series. But yours is a fair question, because the track record of these revivals is horrendous (Hawaii Five-0 being an exception to the rule, and even that pales next to the impact the original had), and most of them are lousy to boot. (I'm just glad we were never subjected to the failed pilot of the Rockford Files redo, because some things should just be held sacred.) And yes, you are correct that all of the titles you mention are from the Universal library, making these deals easier because the titles are already owned by the parent company. (Same strategy holds for the recent news that CBS is thinking of reviving Charmed, which was from Aaron Spelling's company, now absorbed within the CBS empire.)
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Question: I love your column and just knew you would be the perfect person to help me with my confusion about the new promos for Mike & Molly. Since CBS has done away with one of its lackluster new comedies, the network has decided to bring back early the tried-and-true laugh factory of Melissa McCarthy and Billy Gardell. However, the promos are billing the show as "the new" Mike & Molly. This makes me nervous, considering that "the old" Mike & Molly worked perfectly and had even become a bit bolder as time has gone on. Could you and would you please explain how and why this show will be "new?" — Gail
Matt Roush: This marketing campaign seems to have unnerved a number of fans. Toni also wrote in to wonder: "The promos I've seen have me worried. They seem to be depicting more slapstick comedy, and I haven't seen the family (love mom and the sister) mentioned at all. They are calling it 'The New Mike & Molly' which makes me think they are screwing with the format. Have you seen any episodes to indicate whether they are changing the show's focus or comedy style?"
My answer: I haven't had time yet to watch any of the new episodes, but the "new" in the promos is no doubt meant to be a blunt reminded that when the show returns, it's a "new" season on a "new" Monday lineup that includes moving Mike & Molly into the 9/8c anchor position that once belonged to the fast-fading 2 Broke Girls. Otherwise, the cast hasn't changed, and I'd be surprised if the tone does, either. But there is one new twist to Season 4: Molly will quit her teaching job in hopes of becoming a novelist, giving the show a fresh story arc to play with. Whether that changes the balance and focus of the storytelling remains to be seen.
Question: I read in TV Guide Magazine that the NCIS franchise is adding another NCIS show to its list, NCIS: New Orleans. I'm just wondering if I'm right to worry that this might be too much of a good thing. When CBS first brought in NCIS: LA, I questioned the situation but found myself as enamored of this as I am of NCIS. When they tried another spinoff (Red), I was happy they decided it wouldn't fly, and now, Mark Harmon and Gary Glasberg are keen on going ahead with yet another NCIS franchise, and I'm wondering whether this will be a wise decision. Are they doing what they'd done with CSI? Having the original, then CSI: NY and CSI: Miami, with the latter two going off the air, granted after making money for the network, its producers and cast? I can understand they're trying to capture another winning formula and that a known entity can seem like a sure thing rather than an original effort that might not lead to success, but still, could it not hurt or dilute the ratings and watchability of the two shows they already have going on? You probably will want to reserve judgment until you've seen the show itself, but I'm wondering if you have any thoughts on the pros/cons in the matter of spinoffs, and when they should leave well enough alone. Granted some work, some don't, and maybe I should just wait and see what happens, but I'm curious as to your thoughts. — Dorothy
Matt Roush: Generally, I have little critical interest in these "brand extension" spinoffs, which seem an awfully lazy way to fill a network's schedule, although it's understandable why they exist (latest example: branching Chicago Fire off into Chicago PD). Dick Wolf's Law & Order franchise probably did the best job of making its spinoffs distinctive from one another, but for me there is a fatigue factor when you dip back into the same well over and over, just changing the names and the settings. On face value, a New Orleans transplant of NCIS at least sounds more appealing than the bad idea that Red was — if they actually film the show there, it would be even more intriguing to me — but it's hard at this point to gauge if a second spinoff would weaken the franchise as a whole the way that the CSI overload may have brought that one-time juggernaut down to earth. (I would suggest that losing so many original cast members weakened CSI more than the spinoffs did.)
Question: I love me some cop procedurals. When people say every episode is "the same," I always stress that the characters and their chemistry is the best part! That brings me to my favorite of all favorites: Castle. I was excited about the job change shake-up with Beckett this season. However, the show already neatly wrapped everything up in three episodes and we're back to normal! Why are procedurals so afraid to give a little more time to the characters when needed? Beckett got fired from a dream job (the firing was a nice touch, though). Shouldn't she be bummed for a little longer than a 3-minute opening scene? — Rina
Matt Roush: Funny, because around the time Castle resolved this arc for Beckett I was already getting mail complaining about why the show had to change and wondering when Beckett would reunite with her old team. There's no satisfying everyone with these shows. Maintain the status quo, some will find it boring. Shake things up too much, fans will pine for the good old days. I was a bit startled that they resolved this as quickly as they did, but not at all surprised that a show this successful would return to its winning formula.
Question: I would like say how much I am enjoying NBC's The Blacklist, as it is one of two dramas I religiously watch (Parenthood being the other). My question concerns James Spader's great characterization of Red Reddington. I love the way his acting and charisma flows perfectly with this role. I can't help comparing him to Spader's portrayal of Robert California during the weak phase of The Office. Both characters have mystery shrouding them and are surrounded by secondary minds clueless to Spader's real MO. As long as we can forget Spader's "nude" scenes from the pool party in The Office, can we not make a logical argument that California was just a non-violent alias used by Reddington as he flew under the radar for so many years? The comparisons between the two are uncanny. And may I be the first to suggest Steve Carell making a Michael Scott crossover into The Blacklist. Just keep it in mind, NBC. —Ben
Matt Roush: Wow, Blacklist and Parenthood, those are strange bedfellows. (Let me suggest Person of Interest if you're seeking other eclectic alternatives.) To your comments on James Spader: There is an aura of mischievous and fascinating inscrutability that defines all of his TV work, and that includes his (up to now) most famous role of Alan Shore from The Practice and Boston Legal. It's good to have him back in a role that suits him so well, crossovers or no.
Question: I understand that most of the country probably has cable TV these days, and I don't know the percentage that have pay cable networks like Showtime and HBO, but I can't believe it's the majority, nor do I know how many people have fast enough Internet connections to actually watch TV episodes on their computers or tablets (and why they would find that comfortable is beyond me). Yet this year, the Emmys expanded their universe to include in their nominations and awards series shown on Netflix that are not even available on cable TV! What makes them TV shows? When cable first came on the scene, the Emmy Awards were for network TV and the Cable ACE awards were for cable TV. The Emmys should at the very least separate categories and have Best Network Comedy and Best Cable Comedy and the same for all other categories, or have separate events for network versus cable. I don't have pay cable and rarely watch any series on cable networks (my cable is for better reception of networks and for sports). There is plenty of great TV on the networks, but it hardly ever gets recognized anymore because the nominations are all taken by cable and now Internet shows. I'm sure there must be plenty who agree. Any chance we could ever get an awards show for the TV most of us still watch? Perhaps the networks could band together and create a new awards show (heaven help us) that would recognize the best in network TV. — Tim
Matt Roush: Well, there's always the People's Choice Awards, which is a true popularity contest, and network shows tend to be much better represented in that context. But so as not to diminish your argument, it's a fact that the divide between nominating network and cable shows is most noticeable these days in the drama categories, and while it's true that to some degree they're operating under different standards — including length of season and ratings imperatives — to ghettoize network from cable would diminish any awards body (or award) that would make such a distinction. Personally, I'm annoyed when a show as excellent as The Good Wife is passed over for something like (for example) House of Cards, which rode a wave of Netflix hype — although if a show as original as Orange Is the New Black had been eligible, I wouldn't have minded as much — but for the most part, I can accept that many cable dramas are taking bigger risks and hitting greater creative heights that what's generally happening on network these days. Emmys are nice, but success is its own reward for many network shows. And to my mind, TV is TV whatever the platform, and as long as a show is written, produced and performed to a distinctive degree of quality, it deserves to be acknowledged.
Question: Regarding your answer in last week's column about Nikita, in which you described "the relentlessly immature and insipid programming that airs through most of [The CW's] schedule" ... Wow, Matt, did someone at The CW kick your puppy? It's not everyone's cup of tea, but I do appreciate a show like The Vampire Diaries with its pretty men and a fast-paced story that for the most part is fun to watch. The key word is fun, which is why I am also giving Reign a try. And anyway, weren't you just complaining about the mopey, whiney characters on Nashville? Sure, their programming can be formulaic and maybe even insipid and immature but look around — except for the big four, all of the networks seem to be trying to brand themselves: USA with its "Characters Welcome," ABC Family, Lifetime, FX and on and on. As you frequently remind us, it's a business, and until the smaller networks get bigger and more powerful they have to play it safe. And if The CW wants to lock down all the pretty men to their shows, I say go for it. — Shelley
Matt Roush: I've got no problem with eye candy and/or fun, but my complaint against The CW is a grinding sameness to so much of its product, and it would be nice if on some of the shows we couldn't improve on the acting by hitting the mute button and doing our own voice-overs. That said, I have enjoyed The Vampire Diaries for most of its run (but spinning it off seems unnecessary) and I used to be devoted to Supernatural (until it went beyond its natural endpoint) and am engaged by Arrow in its second season, so I get the guilty-pleasure aspect of its youth-pandering branding. But when I'm asked how I feel about the way Nikita was treated, it goes back to the rule of thumb: You ask a critic for an opinion, you're going to get one. Don't take it personally.
Question: One of my favorite Westerns growing up was Have Gun, Will Travel. I have heard CBS is doing a reboot of the series. What do you think of that? As far as I am concerned, there was only one Paladin and that was Richard Boone. Are they following the formula of the original series, or are they changing it? (i.e. different time period, different location, etc). — Lila
Matt Roush: There hasn't been any real news about this project since it was first floated back in August 2012, with David Mamet's name attached, so unless you start hearing about casting and actual production of a pilot, I wouldn't hold your breath for this one. And while I'd assume any retooling would keep the general premise intact, the character of Paladin himself is ripe for a Mamet-style reinterpretation: the steely, brainy, uncompromising gunslinger. (True, though, that Richard Boone's characterization is so iconic those would be formidable boots to fill.) The networks have gone through waves of developing Western-themed projects, including resurrecting classic titles, but next to nothing has come of it so far. But continuing our earlier discussion of remakes/reboots, there are worse ideas than going this far back in TV history and bringing modern production values and dramatic attitudes to a premise this provocative and durable.
Question: I've been a fan of Once Upon a Time since the beginning. The plot lines were well played out and it kept the viewers quite engaged. I do have questions about the Neverland plot line, though. I find it rather dark, depressing and frankly restrictive of our characters and their interactions with the rest of Storybrooke. Can you please tell us when they plan to get off the Neverland Island? I want to see more of Storybrooke's other fantastic characters! — Shirley
Matt Roush: You'll need to be patient, because I'm afraid the show will be stuck in Neverland a while longer. I don't do plot spoilers here, but my understanding is that this quest is the arc that will comprise at least the first 11 episodes of the season, up to the winter hiatus. Where the show goes in the back half, whether a Storybrooke-Neverland mash-up or something different, I don't think they've revealed yet. Let that be a surprise for the season's midpoint.
Question: I think the writing on Dads is excellent. I have a couple of "dad" types in my life and the writers have got it right on. To me, the cast of Dads has some of the finest comics of the day. It's one of those rare things — a comedy that is actually funny. Is there a chance for this show? If not on Fox, how about cable picking it up? — Joe
Matt Roush: I will agree that there is some great comic talent (Martin Mull, Seth Green) working on this show — maybe not to the best of their abilities, but as always, that's a matter of taste and opinion. But since Fox just announced a full-season pickup for Dads, no need to worry. And if Fox hadn't stuck with it, I'd have probably answered that a cable transfer wouldn't be in the cards. Although given the realities of synergy, and that Seth MacFarlane's name is attached to Dads, and that corporate sibling FX carries the dreadful Anger Management (more about the deal than the show) and FXX is probably hungry for this same sort of pandering content, anything is possible. (Stay tuned in May should Fox decide not to renew Dads for a second season.)
Question: You may have already addressed this and I didn't see it, but why did ABC cancel Body of Proof? Granted it started off the first season trying to find its footing and wasn't quite that good but it was OK. But the second and third seasons really picked up the pace. It was off the chain. I mean it was really very good. I love that show and hate that ABC had to cancel such a good show to make way for some mindless stupid shows. Everyone I know loved Body of Proof. So why the chop? ABC does really foolish things by cutting their own throat. — Carol
Matt Roush: Given the instant failure of the show that replaced it (Lucky 7), many of us have speculated for weeks that ABC must surely regret not having kept Body of Proof on the back burner as a solid utility player. It doesn't make a lot of noise, and maybe ABC was disappointed it wasn't the next Castle, but it's a fairly effective placeholder in a troubled time period, and they could (and have) done much worse. So cue up that "never say never" cliché, because there are now reports that ABC might try to bring the show back at midseason (not unlike how CBS brought Unforgettable back to life, a show that once aired in that same problem time slot on Tuesdays). Stranger things have happened, but should this come to pass it's still a fairly rare occurrence, so don't expect a miracle for every show that drops off the schedule.
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